Imagine a room of giggling, smiling young children, squealing in delight when they see portraits of themselves and of their classmates. Some are speechless after seeing their faces as drawn by others; all are excited to show off these gifts — gifts of individual portraits painted by artists thousands of miles away. This happiness and joy is on full display in videos from the Memory Project.
As it happens, some Lake Catholic art students are responsible for making many of these kids so happy! Our students are among the thousands of artists in theUnited States who have created portraits delighting underprivileged children around the world.
The Memory Project is a charitable nonprofit founded in 2004 by a Wisconsin college student. According to its website, the Memory Project invites artists at all levels “to help cultivate global kindness by creating portraits for children who have faced substantial challenges … these portraits help [them] feel valued and important … and provide a special memory in the future.”
“I first learned about the Memory Project last year through an email to art teachers,” explains Mrs. Kelly Wolf, Lake Catholic’s art department chairperson. “I look for projects that work well with our curriculum and our mission here at Lake — which includes a willingness to serve. This project fits the values we encourage.”
Lake Catholic was approved to participate and agreed to the Project’s suggested $15-per-portrait donation to cover the cost of delivering the portraits. Students who can afford to pay the donation do so; the rest is paid through generous contributions from faculty and staff.
Lake completed its first project during the 2017-18 school year — ten of Mrs. Wolf’s drawing class students created portraits of children in Africa. This past fall, more than 15 of her students participated, making portraits of children in Colombia. For the spring 2019 semester, another art teacher, Tina Meeks, will coach her students on portraits of children in Peru.
“Creating portraits of children from different cultures has prompted lessons about how to illustrate a variety of skin tones,” notes Mrs. Wolf. “Many of our students had done self-portraits, but most of them are white or Asian. This project helped them learn how to choose and use color to change the depth and value of colors in a portrait.”
Photographs of the children are sent to the school — each described with only a first name, age and favorite color. Along with the completed portraits, Lake artists were asked to include the same information about themselves — plus their photographs. “The Memory Project team is really good to work with,” Mrs. Wolf says. “At their request, we take pictures of our students while they’re working on the project to be used in a unique video created for us after the children receive the portraits.”
Two student artists from the 2018 fall semester added comments. “I really enjoyed it — it was really cool to be able to connect with these kids,” says senior Remiel Colwill. “My kid was a five-year-old girl with a beautiful smile. I loved working on her piece — it felt special since I knew it was going to her. It felt important to work on my technique because I wanted it to be really accurate.”
Sophomore Helena Duke also did a portrait of a young girl. “We got to choose the one we wanted to paint — I picked her because she was cute and I really wanted to draw her. The most challenging part was getting thedetails and tones just right. I really enjoyed it and hope to be able to do it again.”
To help her students create the portraits, Mrs. Wolf introduced them to the ‘grid’ method — laying a clear sheet with a one-by-one-inch grid over the original image, then transferring the elements from each grid in a similar ratio to the portrait page. Remiel says, “It was the first time we did that technique and it really helped me keep things in the same places. Because of thegrid, it was easy for most people to stay on track.”
Mrs. Wolf adds, “When I showed my students theMemory Project video — explaining the idea to offer a simple thing to children who may never have gotten such a gift before — they really embraced this and wanted to do well. They were impressed that they had been selected to be part of this.”